Tag Archives: Matthew

God’s People, part 133: The Gospels

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1 NLT)z

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

TheGospelsPart 133: The Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lay on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels ‘round my head;
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.

Many, myself included, grew up reciting this beautiful (and, yet, strangely chilling) bedtime prayer while a child. In this prayer, children and adults alike are praying to the four saints who wrote the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often when people think of the Gospels, they think of just one account told by those four different people. On top of that, much of our understanding of Jesus is really a conglomeration of those four gospels.

When reading the Gospels, one must take into account that they were written in first century of the common era and not in the 21st century. That means that, in order to fully understand the significance of the Gospels for our lives today, we have to take into account what they were actually conveying to people in the first century. This is not just true of the Gospels, but of any text written in any period of time in history.

What’s more, the Gospels were not written as historical accounts in the sense of 21st Century, objective, impartial history; rather, the Gospels were a marriage between history, theology, and socio-political commentary. The latter may take some by surprise as we in the 21st century like to try to separate religion from politics; however, in the 1st century there was no such divorce between the two.

For instance, when Jesus is given the title Son of God, that is not only a theological truth being conveyed, it is also a statement against Caesar who was known to the world at the time as divi filius, or son of a God. Important still, the Gospels are absolutely setting up Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom in contrast and opposition to Caesar and the kingdom of the world. In other words, the Gospels very intentionally call the reader to choose between the empire and the world order and Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom. The two are mutually exclusive; a person can either choose one or the other, but not both.

It is also important to note that the Gospels are NOT the earliest writings in the New Testatment; instead, Pauls’ epistles (aka letters) are the oldest writings in the New Testament. Paul wrote between the 50s and 60s CE (his earliest epistle only being written about 25-30 years after Christ’s death). The earliest Gospel (which is the Gospel of Mark) was written in about 70 CE (about 40-45 years after Christ’s death).

Why is this important to note? Because many people will argue that we ought not to take Paul as seriously as the Jesus’ teachings. The problem with that line of thinking is that Paul’s writings get us the closest to the earliest Christians and to what their theology was. What’s more, the Gospels are very much influenced by and, sometimes, in reaction to Paul’s teachings. Plain and simple, Paul cannot be dismissed.

The challenge for us is this, when we approach the Gospels, let us not look at them as one story told by four different people of the same mind; rather let us see them as four separate accounts, sometimes playing off of one another, teaching us different aspects and angles on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us not look at the Gospels as a mere historical account telling us facts and figures, but let us see it for all of the rich depth with which it was written.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If you would like to read the Gospels in the order they were most likely written, start with Mark (ca. 66-70 CE), then Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), then Luke (ca. 80-110 CE) and finish with John (ca. 90-110 CE)

PRAYER
Lord, enrich my life and my faith through the account of your Son, Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. I believe and put my faith in Christ and Christ alone. Amen.

God’s People, part 34: Jephthah

Read Judges 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But I say, do not make any vows! Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:34a, 37 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

1909 Jephthahs DaughterPart 34: Jephthah. Daughter, O daughter, wherefore art thou daughter? I wonder if you have even heard the name Jephthah before. He was, believe it or not, one of the major judges who rose up to deliver Israel from her enemies. He was a judge for a period of six years and was a great, great warrior. Yet, like all of God’s people, Jephthah was far from perfect.

The Bible indicates that Jephthah was the son of Gilead and a prostitute, who lived in the land of Gilead. Given the nature of a prostitute’s job, this might mean that his father was not named Gilead, but was unknown. In other words, his father could have been any one of the men of Gilead consorting with a prostitute. So, the great and mighty warrior’s story starts off with the detail that he was an “illegitimate child”.

Yet, this child (as all children are) was created and loved by God, and he rose up to defend his people against the Ammonites. With that said, he was reluctant to at first, because of the way he had been treated by his own people, the Israelites. Since his birth was scandalous, he was shunned and driven out of Gilead by the residents there. He was told he would have no inheritance in his father’s house. Again, his father might have been named Gilead, or this might be symbolic of not being welcome in his home town due to the scandalous nature surrounding his mother.

When asked to defend Israel against Ammon, Jephthah refused to do so unless they made him a permanent ruler over all the Israelites. The people, desperate for his help, vowed an oath under God to make him the permanent ruler. So, Jephthah agreed to lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. Scripture tells us that he was filled with the Spirit of God; however, Jephthah wanted to ensure victory and, in doing so, made a tragic and fatal mistake. He vowed that if the Lord would give him victory, he would sacrifice the first thing that walked through the front door of his house.

What a silly, silly vow. Why would he vow such a thing? Didn’t Jephthah know that the first thing that would walk through his door was his one and only daughter? This is, yet again, another one of more vile texts we find in the Bible, for Jephthah does indeed hold true to his vow to God and sacrifices (aka murders) his daughter. He lets her wander the hillside with her friends for two months but, following that, he sacrifices her.

The Bible is not clear as to whether or not God wanted such a sacrifice, or whether God wanted Jephthah to carry that sacrifice through. All we have is the vow that he made and the action that he carried out. With that said, God’s silence does not mean that this is what God wanted, let alone what God demanded. The reality is that people do all sorts of evil and sick things, and God does not come down out of the heavens (as was the case with Abraham) to stop them from carrying it forward.

The point of this story is not to take it literally and get hooked on the gory and horrific details. The point of is to learn something about ourselves in it. Had Jephthah trusted that the Spirit of the LORD was with him, he would not have made such a rash, foolish and ultimately tragic vow. Had he merely trusted in God’s presence, he would have simply led his people out to victory and won. Instead, by trying to secure his victory through bartering with God, he put himself and his daughter in a situation that should have never existed.

I believe that Jephthah should have never carried that vow out to conclusion, just as he should have never made the vow to begin with; however, he did what he did and we’re left horrified by the whole scenario. Let this be a reminder to us that we need not barter with God, as if God can be bought by our silly vows and promises. All God asks of us is to seek to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the LORD, our God. The challenge for us is to be satisfied in our faith, to be satisfied with the assurance Scripture gives us of God’s presence in our lives, to be confident in the hope that GOD will not abandon us, and that salvation and deliverance will come. Why? Because God delivers and is faithful. Let us be faithful back to God and place our trust in the Holy Spirit within us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Those that vow the most are the least sincere.” – Richard Brinsely Sheridan
 PRAYER
Lord, your Holy Spirit is within. Give me the assurance to trust in your presence. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 3: Mourners

Read Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18 NLT)

black-and-blue-lament-e1468181738718Jesus continued his bestowal of blessings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The words rang out and filled the ears and souls of the multitude of people gathered around Jesus that day. There was much to mourn in their day and age, there had been much to be grieved over. Under the weight of such suffering, there wasn’t a single soul among Jesus’ followers who hadn’t been in some state of mourning or another.

Whether rich or poor, whether powerful or weak, whether a person of status or a peasant, all were in a state of grief over the travesty of being subjegated to the Roman Empire. Sure, there were some who had much to gain from Rome’s presence. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and his whole priestly family benefited from Rome. According to Flavius Josephus, Annas (the same Annas who took part in Jesus’ mock trial) was appointed High Priest in 6 CE by the Roman Governor Quirinius as the first High Priest of the new Roman Province of Iudaea (aka Judea). He served in that role until he was deposed by the Roman Governor Gratus in 15 CE and was replaced by his son, Eleazar, in 16 CE. In 17 CE, Gratus deposed Eleazar and appointed Annas’ son-in-law, Joseph son of Caiaphas (aka Caiaphas) as the high priest.

There were others who also had much to gain. Herod, an Idumaean Jew, and his family gained power under Rome, as did those who supported Herod’s agenda of Hellenizing Judea (aka the Herodians). Yet, even they were not without their mourning for, under the Roman boot, no one was truly free to do as they pleased, not even Herod. Following Herod’s death, Caesar Augustus refused to give any of his children the title of king, but appointed three of his sons as governors. Herod’s son Archelaus, though willed by his father to be king, was eventually deposed by Augustus and the regions he ruled (Samaria, Judah, and Idumaea) were consolodated into a new Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea) and placed directly under Roman Rule. Antipas and Phillip both kept governorship of their regions, but the tension between them and Rome was thick.

So, yes, many had much to mourn over in the days and years Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and no doubt, everyone has something to mourn about in our day and age as well; however, Jesus was not merely speaking to those who mourned in the physical sense, as it is often misunderstood. Jesus was, in actuality, speaking to those who mourn in both the physical and spiritual senses.

Without doubt, by using the phrase “those who mourn”, Jesus is referring to the poor. This can be evidenced in Luke’s literal interpretation of this famous beatitude (Luke 6:21b). With that said, I would once again caution anyone from rushing to the judgment that Matthew is “spiritualizing” Jesus’ words. First, it is more than likely that Luke was written after Matthew, not beforehand. Thus, chronologically speaking, it would be more likely that Luke “literalized” the words of Jesus found in Matthew, and even that’s just as unlikely. Second, since the mysterious Q source of Jesus’ sayings has never been found, only speculative (and not empirical) claims can be made regarding what Jesus was actually recorded as saying. Without empirical evidence, there’s no reason to believe that either Matthew or Luke are detracting from what Jesus said, but more or less expounding upon it.

Lastly and most importantly, Matthew’s text (regardless of the points above) does not exclude the literal poor, but most certainly includes them when mentioning those who mourn. Blessed are they who mourn because of the greed, the corruption, the power, and oppression of the wicked, for they will be comforted. Also included in this group of blessed people are those who mourn and lament because of how far wayward God’s people had gone as a result of greed, corruption and abuse of power. Blessed are those mourners for they, too, will be comforted when God’s Kingdom finally and fully reigns on the earth.

What’s more, as will be seen later in the beatitudes, the mourners are not merely those who are helpless and voiceless against injustice, but those who stand up against it and face the consequences of doing so. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The question for you is, which one of these are you? Are you one of the poor and helpless who mourn? Are you one of those who mourn and lament over injustice and stand up against it, or are you one of those who our Lord (Matthew 23; Luke 6:24-26) declares a series of woes against? Challenge yourself to earnestly reflect on this, not only this week, but always.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.” – Malcom Lowry
PRAYER
Lord, as I mourn the way this world is, empower me to follow you and change it. Amen.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

TheFourGospels“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head; one to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” There is nothing quite like children’s nursery rhymes, is there? Especially religious ones that point to a God that all little children had better fear. I grew up reciting this rhyme as young boy, subconsciously digesting it’s grim and rather creepy message. This rhyme basically says that you had better be in line with the four Gospels if you would like God’s protection when you sleep, and it doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you could die in your sleep. So if you would like angels to guard you and/or carry your soul to heaven, you had better be blessed by the Gospels. That’s rather funny being that the word gospel literally means “good news” and is the “good news” of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

It is amazing to me that so many people claim to be Christian in this country and, yet, few people are literate to what the Gospels actually say. We recite quaint little rhymes, we remember the Sunday School stories taught to us at young ages, and we even watch movies that are, when you think of it, only loosely based on the Gospels; however, most people do not pick up the Gospels and read them for themselves. And, when people do pick up the Gospels and read it, they read it as if they are a cohesive, singular story that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who were sitting side by side and consulting with each other on what they remember the Lord saying and doing. Here’s an example. Tell yourself what you know about Jesus’ birth. You will probably think of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, being forced to sleep in a manger because there was no room at the inn, and being visited by 3 wise men who brought gifts, as well as by shepherds who got a full choral performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir of angels.

Yet, I bet you didn’t realize that Mary and Joseph only get put in a manger in Luke, not Matthew. And the Wise Men are only mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke, not to mention the author of Matthew (we don’t actually know his real name, as he never actually gave it) never numbered the wise men to three. What’s more the shepherds only show up in Luke and not in Matthew. Let me also point this out, the birth narrative is ONLY found in Matthew and Luke. It is absent in Mark and John. Is your head spinning yet? What do we make of this? Should we question the accuracy of the Gospels?

The answer, in short, is absolutely not! If the authors were looking to write a 21st century, scientific, history textbook, then we should definitely question their accuracy; however, that is not what they were writing. They were writing a Gospel which combines loosely recorded historical figures and events that are combined with narratives woven around what were the known sayings, teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, who they witnessed and experienced as the Christ. To simplify this a bit, what the authors were writing was a THEOLOGY on WHO JESUS IS and WHY THAT IS GOOD NEWS. That is what these authors were concerned with, reporting the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST to their communities.

My challenge to you is for you to read the Gospels. Read them in the order they were written Mark (ca. 68-70 CE), Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), Luke (ca. 80-90 CE), and John (ca. 90-100 CE). Read them separately, taking each one on its own terms. Get a feel for what truths each author would like to convey to you about Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. Let them inform you, rather than you trying to inform them, and be amazed at the dynamic, living, and powerful Christ that will meet you in the process. There are no books in the world more influential that the Gospels and there is a reason for that. Read them as they are and be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“While facts are beholden to truth, truth is not beholden to fact.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, speak the truth of your good news to my heart so that I may see you as you wish to be revealed to me, through the faithful witness of others as well as through my own experience. Amen.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Read Mark 8:34-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)

PlateWhen I was younger I was interested in various sports. Two of earlier sports I played were soccer and baseball. I wanted to be like all of the other kids and be good a playing sports. In fact, if I were to psychoanalyze myself, I would have to say that I was seeking recognition and validation from my peers, and people who were good at sports seemed to get plenty of that.

Baseball seemed like a good sport to play. It was considered an American pastime and they had all of those Baseball trading cards filled with sticks of bubble gum to lure kids into wanting to become a MLB star. So, naturally, I wanted to become a baseball player. I had heard stories of my uncle who had quite an arm and even pitched at the college level. My cousins played baseball and were quite good at it. So why not me?

I will never forget my first time at bat, when the ball came whizzing by me. It seemed so fast and so frightening. That thing was not soft, what if it hit me? I remember being filled with fear of being hit by that ball. I remember swinging half-heartedly because I was too terror-stricken that I might get hit.

Boy, did that turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I remember when that hard baseball came flying into my leg. Thwack!!! It stung something terribly. I remember the tears wanting to come out and my forcing them back in…after all, we’re told that big boys don’t cry…right? While I did finish out the season, as that was the rule my parents set before me anytime I signed up for something, that was my last season of baseball.

What would have happened had I sucked up the pain, pushed aside the fear, and gave baseball my all? Who really can tell. But I let the pain of the ball hitting me, and the fear that it would happen again, to keep me from giving it my all. I let fear and a little pain keep me from ever truly stepping up to the plate. Sure, I “stepped up to the plate”, but not really. The reality is that I always did it hesitatingly, and therefore, I never really stepped up to the plate at all.

While I am speaking in terms of baseball, I find that many people do this in there spiritual lives too. Many people simply do not step up to the plate because of one reason or the next. perhaps they have been burned before or they anticipate being burned. Perhaps they feel they’ve done their share and don’t need to step up any longer, or perhaps they always learned that ministry was “someone else’s call” and not theirs.

Whatever the reason, God is calling us to reevaluate ourselves and our committment to ministry. Are you stepping up to the plate, or is something holding you back. How far are you willing to go for your faith? How good is the news that you claim to believe in? Today’s challenge, and perhaps the challenge for this new year as a whole, is to step up to the plate, to rise up to the challenge, to answer YES to God’s call to be disciples (and even apostles) of the Good News…of God’s hope, healing, and wholeness. The new year is here, what is your response?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Too many Christians have a commitment of convenience. They’ll stay faithful as long as it’s safe and doesn’t involve risk, rejection, or criticism. Instead of standing alone in the face of challenge or temptation, they check to see which way their friends are going.” – Charles Stanley

PRAYER

Lord, I seek to renew and build upon my faith. Help me to see past my fears and doubts so that I may boldly step up to the plate and witness to your Good News of hope, healing and wholeness in all that I do. Amen.

Two Probing Questions

Read Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

who_am_iAnyone who has ever had me as their teacher in confirmation class can attest to the fact that I take confirmation very seriously. I have developed a curriculum that goes beyond teaching the meaning of membership to a curriculum that instructs the students to engage in Christian History from Jesus to our current day and age. The curriculum has the students actively engage theology and doctrine (and the history behind the formation of the doctrines) as well as learn about the meaning of membership in the church.

One of the exercises I have the students do as a requirement for the class is to write a 3 page paper, or longer if they desire, answering two very simple, and very Biblical questions. In Mark 8:27-30, in Matthew 16:13-20, and in Luke 9:18-21, Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is and, following their various answers, he asks them who they say that he is. So, likewise, I have the students answer those two questions.

It is amazing how challenging such an exercise is. Most of us can easily and quickly come up with a long list of the things that people say Jesus is; however, when it comes to who we say Jesus is, if we are going to take the exercise seriously, it becomes much more difficult to articulate. But each of my students have been through the exercise and each have come away saying that the experience of it was rewarding, leaving them with a richer sense of who Jesus is to them.

When God created humanity, God did not create robots. It was not God’s intention to have an android creation that just mindlessly, and robotically, did whatever God wanted them to do. Rather, God created a free-willed, free-spirited, and free-thinking people who had the ability to not only choose to be in a relationship with God and, in that relationship, seek to come to an understanding of God and of self in the context of that relationship. As human beings, we do not only define ourselves by our own thoughts of who we are, but rather we define ourselves by the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. Who am I without my mom, my sister, my friends, my wife, my children, and myself?

Thus, if we are Christians who claim to be in a relationship with God and with Jesus the Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that we would seek out who Jesus is? Doesn’t it make sense that we would not just settle for who people say Jesus is, but that we would find out who Christ is to us? Doesn’t it makes sense that we would want to get to “know” the person we claim to love and to follow?

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for you to write down Jesus’ two probing questions: “Who do people say that I am?” Who do you say that I am?” God is calling you to probe deep into your faith. It is never okay to just accept things at face value. God is calling you to move beyond what you’ve been taught into the realm of personal, experiential knowledge. Who is Christ for you? How have you experienced the power and the love of Christ in your life? How has Christ healed you, been present with you, changed you, and/or challenged you? Where does your story and the Gospel story intersect? God is calling you to truly discover who Jesus is and to deepen your faith in him. Such an invitation leads to transformation and conviction. Get to know your Lord and be convicted to bear his hope, healing and wholeness to world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in [people] becoming like Him.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick

PRAYER

Lord, take me deeper in my faith that I may more intimately know you and grow more and more like you. Amen.

 

Shake What Will Be Shaken

Read Luke 6:27-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12)

65376-bigthumbnailIn his book, “The Great Divorce”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”

If the above quote is taken as an absolute truth, I certainly take issue with it because I have seen, as I am sure most of us have, plenty of examples where hell is more than just a “state of mind.” The holocaust, apartheid, abject poverty, starvation and many other examples surely show that hell can be a very physical reality. But I am not so sure that C.S. Lewis, who was a rather brilliant person, was proposing that hell was merely a state of mind.

What Lewis seems to be getting at is that the person who gets locked up in themselves, a person that cannot move past their own reality to understand the reality that others are experiencing, the person who put themselves over and above others is a person who finds themselves locked in hell. After all, God created us to live in community with other. God wishes for us to view others, even the ones we don’t like so much, as children of God. We are, as it is written in Scripture, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

But there are many people who go through life ignoring that commandment. I have seen people hold on to grudges with an iron grip, not letting them go even up to the point of their deaths.  I have seen families split and destroyed, friendships ruined, relationships obliterated, and enemy lines drawn all as a result of the unwillingness to forgive. I have also seen that kind of hatred breed in the next of kin and their next of kin, fulfilling the word’s of Exodus 20:5 that state that the sins of the parents affect the entire family, even to the third and fourth generations.

I have also seen people simultaneously struggle with themselves in the midst of their hatred. I have seen them watch their families, friends, and even enemies slip away as they seethe in anger. I have seen such people end up completely alone, questioning if God still loves them. And what has been gained from all of that hate? It seems that, indeed, such people are stuck in the “dungeons” of their own mind. It seems to me that such people are really locked inside their own personal hell.

As children of God, we are supposed to look upon all of the people of the world as being our kin. We are all kin of God’s and we are all equally loved by our divine creator. It is that love that forgives us when we have done wrong, and it is that love that requires us to forgive others when we feel we’ve been wronged. To hold on to bitterness, hatred, and an unforgiving attitude is to throw ourselves in our own personal hell.

Rather than doing that, rather than trapping ourselves in a hell that is locked from the inside, why don’t we let go of our hurts and pains. Why don’t we try to reconcile ourselves with others. Whether or not we succeed in such reconciliation, if we have a forgiving attitude and pray for those who refuse to live into God’s love, we can move on into other meaningful relationships without getting caught in the hell of anger, resentment and hatred. God wants us to shake what can be shaken, to get rid of all of the things that separate us from God, until only the unshakeable remains.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I willingly believe…that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” – C.S. Lewis

PRAYER

Lord, free me from my own prison and fill my heart with your love and forgiveness, in order that I might give it to others. Amen.

Our Father’s House

Read Luke 6:37-49

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

still-of-hayden-christensen-in-life-as-a-house-large-pictureThere’s a movie that came out several years ago called, “Life as a House,” which was about a man who finds out he has terminal cancer. This man was a guy who fell short in many of his relationships, none more so than the relationship with his son.  After telling his ex-wife about the diagnosis and prognosis, she agrees to send their son to spend the summer with him. The son didn’t really want to spend the summer with his father; however, he has no choice in the matter and begrudgingly went.

The father had decided that he was going to build his dream house, the house that he always talked about building but never got around to it. It was the house he had promised his son’s mother that he would build when they were still married; it was the house that he failed to build. The father also decided that his son was going to help him build this house and, as with going to stay with his father in the first place, the son had little choice in the matter and begrudgingly agreed to help his dad build the house.

The father wanted the building of the house to be the rebuilding of his relationship with his son. He wanted to bond with his son so that, after the cancer finally killed him, his son would know that he loved him and would have the house as a reminder of his father’s love for him. But the son wanted none of that. He thought the entire project was stupid. He couldn’t understand the point of it all. The boy’s pride was keeping him from seeing the bigger picture.

To make a long story short, the boy does end up bonding with the father, but just as he starts to bond, the father tells his son that he doesn’t have long to live. He grows angry with his dad and can’t understand why his dad didn’t tell him to begin with that he had cancer. Again, the boy’s pride kicks in and he refuses to talk to his dad any more and refuses to work any more on the house…until his father falls ill. Once his dad was dying the boy was faced with the choice of forgiving his father or holding a grudge…of building the house or letting his father’s dreams die with him. Thankfully the son chose to complete the house and in the end the father willed the house to his son and his ex-wife.

Many people, just like the son, let their pride hold them like prisoners. They hold grudges and refuse to forgive only to watch their relationships disintegrate before their very eyes. What a tragedy that in this short life, people would choose to waste it by locking themselves in the prison of pride. What a tragedy that anyone would selfishly refuse to forgive others, especially since each of us have been on the receiving end of forgiveness.

Jesus taught of the importance of being humble and forgiving.  If we think we are better than others, if we think that others are less deserving of grace and forgiveness than we are, then we truly are prisoners of our pride, locked away in our own unrelenting personal hell. Is any grudge worth the price we pay in the end? Is any wrong committed against us worth the hell we put ourselves through by hatefully holding grudges? Today’s challenge for us is to let go of our grudges, and let God begin to sow the seeds of forgiveness in our hearts. If we do that we will truly inherit the house our heavenly father is building for us: the house of Hope, Healing and Wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

PRAYER

Lord, give me the strength it takes to be humble and to forgive, as I recognize that I, too, have been forgiven. Amen.

Why Not Me?

Read Matthew 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

trafficEvery year around Spring and Fall, as the pollen starts to float ad nauseum in the air, I have been known to come down with killer sinus infections.  These infections come on like the Flu, literally, and I am rendered useless until I go to the doctor and get it treated. Every time, I get hit with such a sinus infection, I begin to look up at the heavens and question, “Why me? I mean, why do I always end up with these blasted infections! It’s just not fair!”

There are definitely other scenarios that cause me to ask the same question, “Why me?” When I get stopped at the traffic light…”Why me?” When I get behind a slow car…”why me?” When I get served the wrong food or the service is too slow…”why me?!?!?” The truth is that I am certainly not alone in asking that question! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that question asked and, of course, there are host of different reasons for people asking it.

If we are going to be honest, though, any “reason” we come up with for asking that question is superficial; rather, to be completely honest would be to recognize that such a question stems from a sense of entitlement, which stems from our own self-centeredness.  It is because I am concerned with “me” and the way “I” feel that causes me to ask the question “Why me?” I guess, the real question we should be asking ourselves is, “why not me?”

Why shouldn’t I get sick? Why shouldn’t I get stuck at a traffic light or behind a slow car? Why should I get served by only the most perfect people and only the most timely of manners? What makes me so special that I should feel entitled to stuff that no one else in the entire world is entitled to? Do I live up to the perfection I expect out of others?

When I went to the Bay of Bengal in India, I walked among the fisher people who lived in houses that were smaller than my office; they were sharing that tiny space with their extended family. There are children who have to walk miles one way to get to a clean source of water. No matter what country you are from, there are people within your very communities that suffer from poverty, malnutrition, abuse, addiction, cancers,illnesses and any variety of things. Is it okay that they have to go through such things? Are we thinking of them when we begrudgingly cry out, “Why me?”

Entitlement didn’t sit right with Jesus, who taught us to look beyond ourselves and to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Jesus stood up in opposition of people who felt entitled, who felt that they were in a better place than others. Jesus stood in opposition to self-centeredness; rather, he called for people to deny themselves, to pick up their crosses, and to follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The truth is that we should all be asking ourselves, “why not me?” Why shouldn’t I be challenged by life in the same ways that others are challenged? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to learn more patience? Why I shouldn’t I be in a position to acquire more humility? Why shouldn’t I be in a position to compassionately put myself in someone else’s shoes before judging them? Why not me? If we pause for even a moment to ask ourselves that, perhaps we will not only recognize the real hurt others are in, but we will also step up to do something about it. Today’s challenge for us is to set aside any sense of entitlement and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we feel impatient, we are agitated & unhappy in the moment. When this happens, ‘name’ it, breathe & release your sense of entitlement.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, guide me to a place of contentment and use me in a way that brings blessings to those who are in need of them. Amen.